We recently got a chance to preview a near final version of Virtual Programming's upcoming title X2 - The Threat. The title is a space simulation game that requires use of combat, tactical, navigational, and entrepreneurial skills. Although it was released back in 2003 on the PC, the game is surprisingly still cool and should be enjoyed by many Mac gamers once released.
The player takes on the role of a pilot indigenous to the X-Universe. The story begins with our soon-to-be hero and his companion attempting to steal a ship and after a failed, action-packed escape attempt in a dense nebulae, he soon finds himself aboard a security ship, destined to live out his days on the cold, prison-mining world of Artur. This is all explained in some very nicely rendered cut scenes. In these scenes, you get to make some choices that presumably will alter the course of the game.
The scope of X2 is quite massive. X2 is an open-ended space simulation that gives you the freedom to trade resources, hunt pirates, mine asteroids, escort dignitaries, be a pirate yourself and loot others, or just plain explore the universe. This game has a strategy aspect that allows you to build factories, control ships, and ultimately assemble a fleet to dominate the galaxy. There are six different races in your world, all of which are threatened by an ominous new threat. You must develop your own interests, and defend and expand them as you can.
GameplayI highly recommend taking the spaceflight tutorial when you first get the game. Without it you will be lost, as the flight controls are not super intuitive. The spaceflight engine is also a bit clunky. The physics system doesn't seem to incorporate inertia. The controls are finicky, thus making it difficult to aim anything precisely but once you get used to it, it's ok. Then there is war. Combat can be fun, as you get to test your mettle and your ship's weaponry and upgrades in battle. I found this preview edition to be all about having the right shields and weaponry. The combat AI is rudimentary, as computer-controlled ships seem to almost turn randomly in search of engagements.
X2 does have some really nice graphics. For rather modest system requirements, it's not a bad graphics engine. I played on both a 1.25 G4 Powerbook and a dual 2.0 G5 platform. Both handled the game well, although the action was far smoother with the G5. I do suggest at least 512 RAM, especially if you have upgraded to Tiger.
It's a big universe. There is a lot to explore, and it looks beautiful. There are multiple types and combinations of spacecraft to play with and it takes some time to find the perfect vessel for your style of game play. Every sector feels distinct, and each alien race has its own distinct look with unique goods to trade. In addition to being able to buy your own ships, you can even buy your own space stations, satellites, laser towers, and remotely control a fleet of trading vessels and fighter ships.
Trade your way through the space lanes and achieve mogul status. Fight your way through dozens of interlinked missions within an all-new storyline. Build your empire of stations and ships across the universe.
It's hard to get ahead in X2. Ships and upgrades are very expensive. While you can make some money on cargo runs, you will soon get bored doing 10 to 12 runs just for the next upgrade. To be a formidable foe, you will need missiles and defenses, which are also prohibitively pricey. This tends to bog down game play a bit and take some of the fun out of this title.
The Bottom-lineX2: The Treat is sufficiently different to merit a look once released. I understand a demo will be available, so once it's released definitely take a peek and see if this style of space sim is up your alley. I enjoyed my time with X2 mainly because of the massive environment and the unique aspect of this game. Look for an in-depth review of X2 on IMG shortly.